Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Top Ten Regional Horror Films of All Time

We've finally arrived at the Top Ten Regional Horror Films of all time -- including the obvious picks, along with (I think) a few surprises. You can read more about all of the Top 100 (and 200 or so other regional horror/sci-fi flicks) in my new book from McFarland, which you can purchase here.

Happy Halloween!

10. Alice, Sweet Alice (New Jersey, 1976): This is not only one of my favorite horror films of all time, it's one of my favorite films of the 1970s, period. Brooke Shields debuts as a young girl murdered on the day of her first communion in Alfred Sole's creepy, near pitch-perfect giallo-style murder mystery. Everything about this film, from the art direction to the compositions to the incredibly painful and intimate violence, delivers. Even better are the unforgettable performances by Paula E. Sheppard as the disturbed older sister, Mildred Clinton's parish housekeeper, and Alphonse DeNoble as the grotesque landlord.

9. Friday the 13th (New Jersey, 1980): Could there have been a better way to open the 1980s for the genre? Well, maybe, but Sean S. Cunningham's brilliantly manipulative slasher film launched what would turn out to be an incredibly successful commercial period for the horror film (in fact, I think this may be the most financially successful regional horror film ever, but don't quote me on that). Yes, it copied John Carpenter's Halloween, but it also created its own set of clich├ęs that other films quickly copied.

8. The Blob (Pennsylvania, 1958): Even though it was made in the wilds of Pennsylvania by religious filmmakers, The Blob remains one of the key films in the 1950s horror/sci-fi cycle, which was largely dominated by Hollywood-based films from major and minor studios alike. I imagine the presence of Steve McQueen, the fact that it was in color, and that snappy Burt Bacharach theme song helped a lot.


7. Christmas Evil (New Jersey, 1980): Like Alice, Sweet Alice, Lewis Jackson's low-key thriller about a Santa-obsessed toy factory employee who spends Christmas Eve rewarding the nice and violently punishing the naughty, isn't as well-known or well-regarded among fans as it ought to be. But it's an excellent example of exactly what a dedicated filmmaker with a low-budget can accomplish, and it's certainly the  most well-crafted Christmas horror film ever made (at least so far).

6. The Legend of Boggy Creek (Arkansas, 1972): Charles B. Pierce made this pseudo-documentary about Arkansas Bigfoot legend The Fouke Monster with money from a local trucking company. He four-walled it across the south before selling it off to southern theater magnate Joy Houck, making millions in the process and launching a long and fairly successful career in low-budget horror and action films. No one who saw it, either during its theatrical run or on television, ever forgot it, and it influenced a decades-worth of sasquatch cinema.

5. Blood Feast (1963): Director Herschell Gordon Lewis has often referred to his inaugural gore film as being a bit like a Walt Whitman poem: it's no good, but it's the first of its kind, and so therefore it deserves a place. Exactly where that place is depends on your tastes, I guess. It was the first unabashed American gore film, and helped pave the way for more gratuitous onscreen bloodletting. It's also silly, cheap, offensive and ridiculous, which probably explains why it still has an audience all these years later.

4. Carnival of Souls (Kansas/Utah, 1962): Industrial filmmaker Herk Harvey made this little gem on a shoestring, and it gained a substantial reputation via late-night TV airings in subsequent years. Before Night of the Living Dead, Carnival paved the way for quirky, serious supernatural horror. Playing like an extended "Twilight Zone" episode, the film was unique in its day, and that surreal, ghoul-infested Saltair Pavilion sequence still packs a punch.

3. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Texas, 1974): Whatever you think of director Tobe Hooper's later work, his horror debut remains one of the most powerful genre films of the 1970s. Audiences at its premiere in San Francisco allegedly fled the theater vomiting, although I'm not sure why since (despite its garish title) it's fairly gore-free. A grim, unrelenting nightmare that makes the remake pale by comparison.

2. The Evil Dead (Tennessee/Michigan, 1981): The top five films on this list all changed the course of the horror genre in one way or another. Sam Raimi's initial feature (and its two sequels) broke new stylistic ground while the genre was mired in cookie-cutter slasher films, inspiring its own horde of cheap knock-offs and establishing a model for other enterprising young fans/filmmakers around the U.S.

1. Night of the Living Dead (Pennsylvania, 1968): More than any other film, George Romero's grim zombie opus launched a new era in for the horror genre, and its influence continues to be felt more than 40 years later. Most of the other films on this list (and most other post-1968 horror films) copied Night's realistic, modern setting, it's nihilistic tone, and in some cases outright aped its flesh-eating zombies. This was the birth of the zombie apocalypse, and of modern horror cinema.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Top 100 Regional Horror Films, Part IV

We're closing in on the Top Ten (watch this space on Halloween to see which films made the cut), but in the meantime the bottom half of the Top 20 includes some of the most brutal, notorious exploitation/horror flicks to ever emerge from the mean streets of ... Connecticut. Nazi zombies, turkey monsters, killer scarecrows, and hooded killers await!

20. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (Arkansas, 1976): Although The Legend of Boggy Creek remains Charles B. Pierce's most well-known film, this docu-drama may be his finest. Based on the real-life Texarkana Moonlight Murders, it boasts a higher budget and a semi-well-known cast that includes Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, and Dawn Wells.

19. Silent Night, Bloody Night (New York, 1974): This sometimes incomprehensible story about a mad killer seeking vengeance against the elders of a small town as they prepare to sell a notorious former madhouse is high on atmosphere, even if it seems a bit thin on logic. It does have a great score (you can buy it here), a creepy flashback of the inmates breaking out of the asylum, and John Carradine. Star Mary Woronov was married to director Theodore Gershuny.

18. Sleepaway Camp (New York, 1983): It takes everything good about Friday the 13th, adds some perversely cruel kill sequences, and tops it all off with one of the most jaw-dropping endings in the history of the genre -- the final freeze-frame image haunted me for years. The sequels have been all over the map, but the original Sleepaway Camp still packs a unique punch.

17. Scarecrows (Florida, 1988): I often refer to this as the last of the great independent Florida horror films. A gang of paramilitary bank robbers land in the boondocks after a turncoat member parachutes out of their highjacked plane with the loot. Once on the ground, they find themselves at the mercy of a pack of creepy, homicidal scarecrows. With impressive effects by then-teenage designer Norman Cabrera.

16. I Spit on Your Grave (Connecticut, 1978): Although it's best known for its repugnant, lengthy rape and subsequent bathtub castration scene, the sequence showing Camille Keaton's traumatized post-attack walk home through the woods is probably the most powerful scene in the film. I've never liked it much, and I don't really buy the idea that it should be looked at as some kind of feminist, anti-rape tract, but it ranks high here based on its reputation and influence.

15. Maniac (New York, 1980): Joe Spinell delivers a sweaty, unforgettable performance as an NYC psycho carving up local ladies and pinning their scalps to his collection of creepy mannequins. Although grim and at times repellent, Spinell (who also co-wrote the film) puts his all into his role as Frank Zito, and Tom Savini's memorable splatter effects secured Maniac's reputation with gorehounds.

14. Shock Waves (Florida, 1977): The 1970s witnessed the emergence of the peculiar Nazi/zombie subgenre that included the likes of Joel M. Reed's Night of the Zombies and Jess Franco's Oasis of the Zombies. Shock Waves, along with Zombie Lake, formed their own sub-sub-genre of underwater Nazi/zombie movies. Shock Waves was clearly the superior of the two, thanks in part to appearances by Peter Cushing and John Carradine, along with the imposing, angry undead monsters. 

13. Blood Freak (Florida, 1972): You may be wondering what this crazed oddity is doing so high up on the list, but I think we can all agree that this harebrained combination of bikers, anti-drug propaganda and blood-drinking turkey monsters is the wildest thing to ever emerge from the decidedly freaky Florida film scene. Leading man Steve Hawkes still occasionally makes the news thanks to his collection of exotic pets.

12. Basket Case (New York, 1982): Frank Henenlotter's love letter to exploitation films is as well remembered for its goofy humor as its gruesome violence. The story of the Bradley brothers (separated Siamese twins, one normal and one a mutant) remains one of the highlights of 1980s New York film scene, and inspired two sequels.

11. Last House on the Left (Connecticut, 1972): Groundbreaking exploitation film that left a permanent mark on the genre via its unabashed brutality, a stand-out performance from the late David Hess, and a memorable ad campaign ("Keep Repeating: It's Only a Movie!"). It also put both Sean S. Cunningham and Wes Craven on the map, and served as a right of passage/endurance contest for horror fans decades after its release.



Friday, October 26, 2012

Top 100 Regional Horror Films, Part III

Good grief, a month has flown by since we posted Part II of our list of the Top 100 Regional Horror Films. I promise to get through the rest by Halloween, but things have been busy, busy, busy here at The Dead Next Door. The good news: the regional horror films book should go to press this week, which means you should be able to order it by Halloween or shortly afterward (or at least go find it in a library by Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, here are films 21-35:

35. Horror High (Texas, 1974): A low-budget sleeper that holds a special place in the hearts of fans who first caught it on late-night TV under its Twisted Brain title, Larry Stouffer's Horror High was one of just a few pre-Carrie flicks to focus on terrifying American teenagers. In this case: precocious teen scientist Vernon, whose experiments turn him into a murderous Mr. Hyde. Adapted for the stage as a musical. Honestly.

34. Axe (North Carolina, 1974): This unsettling low-budget thriller plays like a mash-up of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane and John Trent's Sunday in the Country: a group of murderous criminals hole up in a farmhouse where they encounter the mysterious Lisa, a disturbed young woman who lives with her mute grandfather and a number of very sharp tools and household items.

33. Squirm (Georgia, 1976): Of all the eco-themed horror films of the 1970s (which saw the populace attacked by spiders, crabs, snakes, ants, and frogs of various sizes), this killer worm story (from director Jeff Lieberman) is probably my favorite. A freak electrical storm drives thousands of bloodsucking worms out of the ground and into the skin of terrified Georgians while Yankee Don Scardino attempts to save the day.

32. The Crazies (Pennsylvania, 1973): George Romero's second horror outing was not nearly as successful or influential as Night of the Living Dead, but the set-up still resonates: A biological weapon is accidentally released in a small town, turning the residents into mad killers. The protagonists are then trapped between the "crazies" of the title and the haz-mat-suited soldiers ordered into the town to contain the problem.

31. Dead of Night/Deathdream (Florida, 1974): When it comes to Bob Clark/Alan Ormsby collaborations, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things may have been funnier, and Deranged may have been more polished, but this tale of a zombie soldier wished back to life by his grieving mother is tops as far as delivering the genre goods and social subtext.

30. The Horror of Party Beach (Connecticut, 1964): A distinctively New England-ish take on the beach party genre, boasting unforgettable hot-dog-mouthed monsters, peppy  musical interludes by the Del-Aires ("The Zombie Stomp"), and an unbelievably over-the-top slumber party massacre that almost undoes every campy minute leading up to it.

29. The Offspring (Georgia, 1987): Although time has made it a bit obscure, Jeff Burr's omnibus horror flick was a late-1980s genre highlight both in terms of gruesome content and its all-star genre cast (Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, Cameron Mitchell, Rosalind Cash, Martine Beswick, Angelo Rossitto, Lawrence Tierney). 

28. Grizzly (Georgia, 1976): Kentucky director William Girdler released two independent horror features (Asylum of Satan, Three on a Meathook) and one for AIP (Abby) before entering the exploitation mainstream with this enjoyable "Jaws with claws" killer bear flick for then-Atlanta-based Film Ventures. He followed up with Day of the Animals (featuring Leslie Nielsen taking on a wider variety of hostile fauna), and then hit the almost-big-time with The Manitou before his untimely death in a helicopter crash.

27. The Toxic Avenger (New Jersey, 1985): Although Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz and the Troma organization released plenty of films before and after, The Toxic Avenger is probably their most successful project, and the one that brought them the most mainstream notoriety. Followed by sequels, a cartoon series, a Marvel comic, and a line of action figures.

26. Street Trash (New York, 1987): Busy steadicam operator J. Michael Muro delivers a giddy, gory classic about tainted booze turning winos into screeching piles of day-glow goo. It's funny, offensive, and gruesome, and makes me wish Muro had directed more features.

25. Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn (New Jersey, 1983): There are a lot of deadly serious films in this portion of the list, but this one is a straight-up, old-fashioned monster movie about flesh-eating alien invaders. It's fun, funny, and boasts some unbelievably accomplished special effects given the budget.

24. Ganja & Hess (New York, 1973): Director/screenwriter/actor Bill Gunn's take on the vampire mythos is considered refreshingly off-kilter by some, boring by others. Night of the Living Dead star Duane Jones (in his only other major starring role) is an anthropologist infected with a vampiric disease after being stabbed with an ancient dagger by his loony new assistant (Gunn). From there, the film turns into a meditation on Jones' struggle with his blood "addiction" and his relationship with Gunn's confounding widow (Marlene Clark). It was released under a variety of titles in re-edited form; seek out the director's cut.

23. The Premonition (Mississippi, 1976): New Yorker Robert Allen Schnitzer headed south to make this odd little gem about a disturbed woman and her carnival clown boyfriend (the great Richard Lynch) abducting the woman's young daughter from her adoptive parents. 

22. Homebodies (Ohio, 1974): As relevant as it was then, Homebodies is a rare genre flick that addresses the silver-haired set. Faced with eviction when their Cincinnati apartment complex is targeted for demolition as part of an urban renewal initiative, a group of elderly tenants begin murdering the gentrifying interlopers trying to dispossess them.

21. Let's Scare Jessica to Death (Connecticut, 1971): Slightly over-the-hill flower children encounter the living dead (or are they?) in the picturesque New England town where they've relocated. Although it's not a "big" enough title to make the top 10, this slice of weirdness from Bang the Drum Slowly director John D. Hancock is one of my personal favorites.













Monday, October 15, 2012

Trailer of the Week: Bloodsuckers From Outer Space (1984)

 A cheap horror comedy that's actually pretty funny. And it has a great theme song!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Trailer of the Week: The Yesterday Machine (1966)

There's no trailer for this Texas time-travel obscurity made by writer/actor Russ Marker, so I've posted a brief clip instead (featuring Marker's brother, James Britton). You can read my interview with Marker in the upcoming Regional Horror Films book, due out in early November.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Trailer of the Week: The Milpitas Monster (1976)

The only California film covered in my upcoming book, Regional Horror Films, Robert Burrill's monster masterpiece is one of my favorites. The trailer below includes some additional goodies, like horror host Bob Wilkins showing off his Milpitas Monster trash can.